Aggressive Towards Dogs. A Not-So-Brave New World

‘Aggressive towards other dogs but a perfect dog at home’. How many times do I hear that.

Aggressive is only a word. It can mean a lot of things. In Lottie’s case it’s probably a belief that if she reacts quickly and strongly enough, she will remain safe. It looks like she’s never learnt the right way to interact with other dogs. It’s not a desire to attack or do harm.

Aggressive towards other dogs?

With Lottie it’s all about feeling unsafe. Self-preservation.

aggressive towards other dogsShe has never actually hurt a dog but she can sound and look pretty fierce. This is hard to believe when you meet the quiet and affectionate dog at home.

It’s a problem they didn’t know about when they picked up the four-year-old Staffie mix from a rescue five months ago.

It began with a sudden encounter with a little dog in a narrow alleyway. She pinned it down but did no damage beyond frightening it.

This was on her very first day with them. It was a totally new world.

From the kind of things she reacts to, it’s doubtful she had encountered many other dogs, nor bikes, scooters, pushchairs and so on. The things she doesn’t react to are surprising. She loves running beside their ride-on mower – very likely she had met one of these before. Off-lead in a field of horses she will ignore them completely, like she’s very used to horses.

Left to do her own thing?

It’s an educated guess that Lottie will have previously lived in a country environment with plenty of space to run free. What she loves best is to hunt. She is kind of uneducated in how to behave towards other dogs and those she has been allowed to get to she will ‘run into exhaustion’. Very likely dogs haven’t been part of her previous life.

At home she hates any shut doors. Leave all doors in the house open and she’s happy. This all suggests she’s unused to any physical boundaries indoors or outside.

The bottom line is that she seems really happy in her new home but she doesn’t feel safe when out – unless free in the open countryside and off-lead. Then she comes into her own.

Many people think the way to solve a dog’s problems with something is to expose them to lots. They did this with bikes by taking her to a cycle pathway. She went mental. If not handled right, too-close encounters with things that scare the dog will actually sensitise her rather than desensitise her. This is the way in which things go downhill.

People seldom think to call a behaviourist until later on and they can no longer cope, so it’s not nipped in the bud and unknowingly they are continuing to further sensitise the dog. So often they are not warned by the rescue to take introducing the dog to his or her new world very slowly.

A large, living teddy bear.

The other issue is that they are constantly having to watch the little girl, age three, who treats Lottie like a large teddy bear. She squeezes her in hugs and sits on her. Lottie will take herself off upstairs to keep out of the way.

There are too many stories of dogs that are gentle and good-natured just like Lottie, one day turning on the child. Children often get bitten in their faces as usually the child has his or her face in the dog’s face.

A picture by another little girl of her dog in his bubble

and a bubble by a little girl called Molly, showing herself smiling outside the bubble

They already are using reward stickers with the little girl. Now Lottie will live in her ‘bubble’ that the little girl will learn not to burst. Mum will draw pictures of Lottie and the little girl can draw bubbles around her. Then they can stick them round the house as reminders.

When the child remembers Lottie’s bubble, she will get a reward. Positive reinforcement for the little girl as well as for Lottie.

Going back to the beginning.

Very fortunately they have access to a paddock and another dog, a Labrador, that Lottie gets on with. She can still have her runs in safety.

Road walking in her new world away from the open countryside is the challenge. They will go back to the beginning and work on loose lead walking, desensitising her to bicycles, scooters, buggies – and helping her with other dogs. Walks will be slow with a lot of standing about. They will build up positive associations with the scary things whilst keeping sufficient distance.

If these things had been part of her daily life from a very young age, she would ignore bikes and scooters just as she does horses and not feel the need to appear aggressive towards dogs.

They will now be playing catch-up. Lottie’s a lucky dog to be living with such conscientious people in her new world. I’m sure she will ultimately have other playmates like the Labrador if they are introduced correctly.


NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lottie and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Stressed Dog, Toddler, New Baby

Fox Terrier gets excited and stressed around toddler and new baby is dueWe can’t have eyes in the back of our head, so where dogs and toddlers are concerned the environment needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Jack is a five-year-old Fox Terrier and they have had him since he was a puppy, well before their little girl was born. They have put in a lot of loving training, he is given plenty of exercise, but still Jack is a very stressed dog; very possibly genetics play apart.

They also have a toddler and now they are expecting a new baby. When the little girl runs about Jack can become quite aroused. He grabs her clothes and sometimes lightly nips her. They need to keep a close eye on him. The temptation then is to tell him off rather than to call him away and reward him for doing so.

The lady is expecting the baby in seven weeks’ time so she may not always be able to watch Jack, and they can’t shut him out of the room they are in because of the fuss he makes.

The kitchen leads off the sitting room. When Jack is shut behind the glass kitchen door he becomes very agitated and very noisy.

I suggest a gate for the kitchen doorway so that Jack is less isolated from them and more part of the action, and that over the next seven weeks they get him used to being happily behind the gate. This can only be done really slowly and needs to be worked on several times daily.

The plan goes a bit like this: Call him briefly into the kitchen behind the barrier and reward him, then go and sit on the sitting room sofa nearby. Wait for a couple of minutes – or maybe less, making sure they let him out before he starts to stress and bark. Gradually increase this length of time and the distance away from him. They give him something good to do or chew when he is in there. By the time baby arrives Jack should be happy in the kitchen with just a barrier between them when mum has her hands too full to be watching him and the little girl.

We discussed all sorts of other strategies to help Jack to become less hyped up and gain some impulse control. His stress levels are at the bottom of the behaviours they want to change, his excessive barking in particular.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chauncey, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good – most particularly where young children are involved. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).


Clever Westie Needs More to Do

WestieFraserOh Joy! This was one clever little dog.

Eighteen-month Westie Fraser that I went to yesterday lives with a couple and their 3-year-old son. He has two different traits, both of which result in toileting indoors.

When the little boy is up and about Fraser can become very amped-up. The child is bright, talkative and energetic just as little boys should be, and he is very hands-on with the dog. Mostly it is a lovely relationship, but at times I feel it gets a bit too much for Fraser, who, during the day can be displaying stress-related behaviours whereas in the evening, with the little boy in bed, dad at home and less happening outside, he is altogether a more peaceful little dog.

Fraser has developed a sequence of behaviours beginning with his hearing or seeing something outside the sitting room window and ends with his toileting on the floor. They live on a corner so there is plenty passing by.  Fraser first starts to bark, he carries on being agitated and barking for several minutes, then he starts pacing and compulsively sniffing the floor. His agitation ends with him either peeing or pooing – or both.

The other thing he does that also results in toileting is in the kitchen when they are busy cooking or doing something with the little boy. Fraser’s not getting their attention – they will be ignoring his usual squeaking and whining (something that usually ends in getting what he wants), so he pees – or poos. He may even look at them as he does so. Although they don’t scold him as such, he certainly gets a reaction! Whatever they are doing stops for a while.

When he is left all alone in the kitchen at night time or when they are out, the place is always clean so this backs up my theory. At most other times his squeaking and whining at them will get him the desired result.

The bottom line I feel is that Fraser doesn’t have enough to occupy his brain so he’s fairly frustrated. I thought we would just try some clicker work to see how he got on. In the past he would sit and stay on request but he refused to lie down.

This little genius got the hang of earning clicks (hence food) in no time at all. He was lying down/getting up/lying down repeatedly, really chuffed with himself.  The couple also caught on very quickly and soon the lady was teaching him to touch her hand (‘touch’) and to look into her eyes (‘watch me’). The options are endless.

We now have a tool for interrupting the alarm-barking routine and teach him to do something else instead – which this morning the lady told me is already working. The other thing they will do is to put static plastic window frosting on that window so he can’t see out.

So far as whining for attention is concerned, he needs to realise in all other situations as well as when they are busy in the kitchen, that it doesn’t work. He will actually be getting far more attention and mental stimulation, but not instigated always by himself, and certainly not as a result of whining and squeaking.

The lady will also be clicker training the little boy with Smarties (and the word Yes instead of clicking so as not to confuse the dog)! She will reward him when he gives the dog space, when he lets him eat in peace and so on.

I was really excited at how quickly this little dog picked things up, and the couple were amazed. We actually carried on for far longer than I would normally without a break, and he still wasn’t ready to stop. There are all sorts of things he can learn to do.

Fraser has a very rosy future and I’m sure it won’t be long before their floors are clean!